Dame Joan Sutherland, one of the finest opera singers of the 20th century, has died at the age of 83 in Switzerland. Few singers truly deserve to be called legendary, but Dame Joan was an exception.

The Australian-born singer shot to international fame in 1959 when she assumed the title role in The Royal Opera’s new staging of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor at Covent Garden. From then on she was unrivalled in the bel canto repertoire and continued the revival of interest in the operas by Bellini and Donizetti that had been pioneered at the start of the 50s by Maria Callas.

She went on to conquer all the major opera houses of the world, including the notoriously difficult audience at la Fenice, Venice who, after her appearances as Alcina, named her ‘La Stupenda’ (the stunning one).

She bid farewell to the stage in 1990 in the role of Marguerite in Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots with Opera Australia in Sydney and appeared alongside two of her regular on-stage colleagues, Luciano Pavarotti and Marilyn Horne as party guests in the Royal Opera’s staging of Die Fledermaus the same year.

She possessed a flawless technique and had a formidable vocal range which is why she excelled in the exacting and demanding roles written for the soprano voice by Donizetti, Bellini and Verdi.

Sutherland garnered many awards during the course of her long career including Dame of the British Empire, Order of Merit and Companion of the Order of Australia. She is survived by her husband, conductor Richard Bonynge, and their son Adam.

Dame Joan Alston Sutherland, OM, AC, DBE (7 November 1926 - 11 October 2010)